Planning ahead: The OODA vs PDCA methodology

By David Sharp

During these challenging times, it remains imperative that all businesses should be considering the future of their Operations, Business Continuity and Contingency Planning. This blog discusses OODA vs PDCA highlighting the main principles of each methodology and how they can help drive improvement.

Following the global changes related to terrorism post 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008 and currently the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen that the future is not always known. Striving to plan for this, as best possible while considering the plethora of risks to our businesses is therefore increasingly paramount.

When considering risk and recovery measures we must think about two specific areas:

  1. Ensuring the consequences of an undesirable event are not as bad as they could have been.

  2. Ensuring the business and process is capable of continuing operations effectively following an undesirable event.

Many quality and risk professionals who are working within the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 are already exploring additional methodologies outside of the traditional PDCA model to better understand the environment around them. The context of the organisation is not merely within but also outwith into the wider community and economy as related to emerging and developing threats.

One such model is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop methodology developed by Colonel John Boyd of the United State Air force (USAF). Boyd's key concept is the decision cycle or OODA loop, the process by which an entity (either an individual or an organisation) reacts to an event. According to this idea, the key to victory or success and survival is to be able to create situations wherein one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one's opponent, competition or the external environment. However, those who are familiar with the canon of both these models, often fall into the error of seeing the OODA loop as a function of the PDCA loop or vice versa.

The PDCA cycle or loop is primarily an analytical approach that can be used with great success in a completely internal manner where there is largely a complete data set. One does not need to consult the external environment or adjust to unfolding circumstances to make the PDCA loop work. PDCA can be used with great success on the factory or laboratory floor with the data that is available. In PDCA, analysis involves the use of a more or less complete data set to reach effective conclusions. We use the data to make a decision about how to proceed then we check and act to confirm or reject the hypothesis that our analysis has led us to. This supports the structure and requirements of Continual Improvement.

OODA is more concerned with synthesising an action out of an incomplete data set. Since it is not possible to recognise all the variables that we are forced to deal with in any environment such as COVID-19, we must thereby be able to make a decision that we believe will give us the highest probability for success and thereby mitigate and minimise any potential operational risk. The synthesis of an action from the observation and orientation of a complex and mysterious environment, subject to frequent and unpredictable change, is the essence of the OODA loop.

The PDCA is primarily involved with analysis, perhaps using some synthesis, whereas OODA is primarily involved with synthesis using all the analytical data points possible but recognising that the data set will always be largely incomplete. The unpredictable world in which we find ourselves is increasingly demanding greater tenacity and dynamism in terms of how we act proactively and also the increasing importance of being capable of fluidly changing plans and responses based on the developing changes we see around us, which are often outside of our control.

By maintaining and developing both aspects, businesses and departments should be able to better place themselves within their industries and additionally in the wider, often global economy to ensure not only survival but to identify opportunities to increase efficiency. As we move forward into this new world it shall be the organisations who embrace change and maintain the capability to adjust who shall thrive.

In terms of OODA vs PDCA, it does not matter what methodology you are more aligned to it is crucial that you have an efficient Quality Management System (QMS). Find out more about how our QMS software helps you to manage quality, including ISO 9001.

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